Hi Friends! Neon is back for another round of fringe decks in Masters. Today’s deck-tech will focus on a Feln Control list from SirRhino, but will dip into a bigger discussion about the position of the control in Eternal.
SirRhino – Feln Control
4 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
2 Backlash (Set1 #200)
2 Eilyn’s Favor (Set0 #24)
4 Lightning Storm (Set1 #206)
2 Lightning Strike (Set1 #197)
4 Vara’s Favor (Set0 #35)
1 Eye of Winter (Set1 #210)
4 Feln Bloodcaster (Set1 #386)
1 Plague (Set1 #274)
4 Push Onward (Set1 #213)
4 Wisdom of the Elders (Set1 #218)
4 Deathstrike (Set1 #290)
1 Rain of Frogs (Set1 #221)
1 Steward of the Past (Set1 #287)
1 Staff of Stories (Set1 #234)
4 Withering Witch (Set1 #368)
4 Black-Sky Harbinger (Set1 #385)
1 Celestial Omen (Set1 #241)
1 Touch of the Umbren (Set1 #308)
1 The Deathstroke now The Last Word (Set1 #309)
7 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)
7 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
3 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)
4 Feln Banner (Set1 #417)
4 Seat of Cunning (Set0 #62)
Introduction to the deck
Various versions of Feln control have skirted in-and-out of the meta game for as long as I have been playing Eternal, all of which have come and gone as time passed by. Although this style of deck has been a fixture of Eternal since the beginning, it is worth stressing that the composition of these decks has varied wildly, and none has been able to establish itself as a top tier player. This version, developed by SirRhino, has been both successful on the ladder, and also offers some new technology that is worth considering in future builds of Feln control.
The game plan of this deck in the early-to-mid stages of the game is very straightforward – kill everything. 4 Deathstike, 4 Vara’s Favor, 2 Lightning strike, 4 Lightning Storm, and 1 Plague make up the removal suite. There are also the standard 4 Wisdom of the Elders, 4 Push Onward as draw/selection tools. Things become more interesting when you look at the unit selection. There are a full 4 Withering Witch, and 4 Black Sky Harbinger, which is very unusual in such lists. These two cards actually have quite the synergy, as the Witch reduces the health of all your opponent’s units to 1, which is just the right amount to be gobbled up by the Harbinger (on curve no less). Withering Witch also combos with lightning storm and Plague to generate 1-sided board clears, or with Vara’s Favor to act as a hard removal spell. Although previous versions of Feln control play some number of each of these cards, I have never seen anyone go as hard on these combos as SirRhino.
Another novel aspect of a deck such as this is the use of The Final Word. Although long dismissed as more sweet than good, there have been a number of players experimenting with the card to good success. One of the difficulties in a deck such as this is closing the game. Although there are games where you quickly choke the life out of every unit your opponent plays, there are also many games where you are maintaining a delicate grip on the game. Being able to just shut the door quickly through the use of The Final Word is great in such situations, or against opponents that gain huge amounts of life (such as the Chalice deck we discussed last week). The Final Word also has some funny synergies, since it gives your spells Deadly. Vara’s Favor becomes a hard removal spell, and Lightning Storm becomes Harsh Rule.
A general note about playing this deck before dissecting it further; you need to earn a lot of your wins. I have played this deck a good amount, and watch SirRhino play it on stream, and you get very few free wins. Obviously there are times when you opponent overextends into a Lightning Storm, or your opponent struggles on power, there are a lot more games where you need to play all your units and removal perfectly to stay alive. Also, outside of Black Sky Harbinger, you really don’t have a lot of sources of extra health. It is not uncommon to sit on the edge of your seat several turns hoping to fade a burn spell off the top before you can find a win condition. Don’t get frustrated at first if you are not winning, as this is a difficult deck to pilot.
One of the reasons that I wanted to discuss this deck today has to do with subtle choices in deck design that SirRhino has made which give this list some added depth. The deck does some very clever things in terms of its choice of units. You may have noticed there were a few possible inclusions in this deck that did not make it into the deck, such as Argenport Instigator, Steward of the Past, Scouting Party and perhaps most notably, Champion of Cunning. Why not include these cards, especially a premium bomb like Champion of Cunning? The units in this deck have been carefully selected to avoid the most commonly played removal in the format. How many Torch targets are in the deck? Zero. How many Vanquish targets? None. Lightning storm targets? Nada. Annihilate targets? A single Steward of the Past. The deck is also resistant to silence, as losing the abilities on any of the creatures in this deck is not the end of the world since they have summon effects. This careful choice in creatures can strand your opponent’s removal without having to go to the extreme of playing a unit-less deck.
The current build of the deck is also squarely focused on defeating two decks – Bandit Queen and Combrei Midrange. This deck plays a full 5 cheap sweepers against go-wide decks, which is complimented by 4 Black Sky Harbingers to sweep up the leftovers and buffer your life total. One of the tensions with playing so many Storms has always been the cost in the Combrei match up, as Sandstorm Titan, Siraf and friends tend to shrug off such effects. By playing Withering Witch plus Lightning Storm, you are able to sweep the opponent’s board. An additional tool in the Combrei match up is the singleton Touch of the Umbren. “Mind control” effects are extremely powerful, as they are functionally a 2-for-1. By stealing a Siraf or some random massive animal you are able to generate a massive advantage in the late game.
One minor piece of innovation that may be easy to miss is the use of Eilyn’s Favor. This is an important piece of technology to protect yourself against a few key spells. The Final Word is a sweet win condition, but it is exceptionally fragile. Eilyn’s Favor doesn’t solve the problem entirely, but it certainly helps. At the time SirRhino was playing this, you were seeing a slight increase in Azindel’s Gift decks. I am not a big fan of that card for ladder, but it is situationally devastating, especially against decks like this. Eilyn’s Favor also guards against random effects like Sabotage or burn spells. Obviously Eilyn’s Favor is not some super star, but it is probably an underplayed effect.
This build of Feln is well tuned to meet certain objectives, so the real question is whether SirRhino has identified the correct objectives. Although Stonescar Bandit Queen and Combrei are certainly popular decks, I have found the meta to be exceptionally diverse at the moment. In my last piece I made a comment about control decks in Eternal: no control deck is truly great, though it can be well positioned. In this piece I’m going to expand on this, and discuss what I call “control’s dilemma”. This is related to the diversity of threats posed by the aggressive and midrange decks. Lets dive in by looking at some examples.
If you came here to just read about the decklist and not read the ravings of a lunatic on control, this would be a good time to check out. If you like long-winded theoretical discussions….well….buckle up
The 3 decks that have been the most consistent performers on the Eternal ladder are Rakano Warcry, Stonescar Bandit Queen, and Combrei Midrange. For the purposes of the upcoming discussion I’m going to throw in Visage control as a 4th pillar of the format. I know it is far from a format staple the way these other decks are, but it will be a stand-in for all control decks. The following table breaks down the effectiveness of any type of interaction against the following decks. This may be useful to anyone trying to dissect a deck to think about how it might be positioned, as breaking down interaction into these distinct categories may be helpful for wrapping your mind around what is going on. One plus sign represents a type of interaction being very poor, 2 plus implies there is limited effectiveness, and 3 plus represents a type of interaction being strong.
|Cheap damage based Removal (e.g. Torch or Vara’s Favor)||+++||++||+||+|
|Hard removal (e.g. Deathstrike or Vanquish)||+||++||+++||+|
|Cheap blockers (e.g. Temple Scribe or Feln Bloodcaster)||+++||++||+||+|
|Hard blockers (e.g. Sandstorm Titan or Statuary Maiden)||+||+++||++||+|
|Cheap Sweepers (e.g. Lightning Storm or Plague)||+++||++||+||+|
|Hard Sweepers (e.g. Harsh Rule or Withering Witch)||++||++||+++||+|
|Silence (e.g. Desert Marshall and Valkarie Enforcer)||+||+++||++||+|
|Health gain (e.g. Stronghold’s Visage or Black Sky Harbinger)||+++||++||+||+|
|Spell hate (e.g. Sabotage and protect)||+||+||++||+++|
I look forward to discussions refining these ratings, but I think they are pretty close. I could go through my logic in defining all these choices, but that is obviously too much detail for our purposes. There are a few things we can learn from this:
- The gap between 1 plus and 2 plus is much smaller than the gap between 2 plus and 3 plus. This is really exemplified by things like using damage-based removal against Rakano. Torch in the early game can often stunt their development, but their effectiveness drops off a cliff if they are really able to get moving.
- Everything is either great against Stonescar Aggro, or terrible against it. You have probably noticed this playing the match up. The only in-between case is something like Harsh Rule, which is often too slow, but is a great way to clean up if you can survive to the midgame.
- Almost everything that is good against Stonescar Bandit Queen is horrible against Combrei. It is very difficult to beat both decks consistently. I feel as if many people understate how good Bandit Queen is, saying it always folds to a single Lightning Storm. While it is true sometimes, there are many games I have lost despite landing a good storm on turn 2 or 3. It is not enough to jam 4 Storm in your deck and say the match up is good.
- Very few cards serve double duty. Desert Marshall and Valkarie Enforcer cross between early blocker and silence effect. Black Sky Harbinger is technically a sweeper and a source of health gain, but these effects are useful in the exact same match ups so it isn’t really pulling double duty. Outside of these, there are not very many cards that check multiple boxes.
- The Rakano column is a little bit deceiving. In reality, in order to effectively combat Rakano you really need a mix of different effects. Harsh Rule can be amazing, but can be a little slow, while Torch is strong early interaction, but falls off in effectiveness in the late game. Silence effects can be great, but silencing a 6/5 Pyroknight or a Ronin with a 6/6 Glaive is not so great. Even burly blockers can be overpowered if they are not backed up by hard removal. Only by getting a mix of effects are you really able to interact with them profitably.
- The only forms of interaction well suited for the match-up against Visage Control are poor against practically everything else. Obviously against a control deck like this it is not like you need to have interaction for what they are doing – it is more important to have powerful/resistant threats. I have included this to show that the only types of interaction well suited to punish control decks are much poorer in every other matchup.
One important consequence of all of this is that no control deck is going to be well positioned against all these major archetypes. There is too much diversity in the threats opponents present. It is impossible to have all the answers you need in your deck. Obviously it is possible to have some of everything, but that is not the same as having enough of everything to make a match up consistently good. Even if you are somehow able to pack your deck with Deathstrikes and Lightning Storms and Harsh Rules you soon get to a point where you are ice cold to any deck trying to win via spells or Relic Weapons. I call this problem “control’s dilemma”, where the threats your opponents play across all possible match ups are more diverse than your answers are flexible.
Some may be reading this thinking “Okay, I’ve heard this song and dance before. Neon is whining about the good ol’ days of hard counters and Doom Blades.” I promise you I am not in that camp. I certainly enjoyed Sphinx’s Revelation control back in the day, but that was because that deck was busted not because I am some diehard control player. Although I enjoyed that deck, it is really not healthy for card games for many reasons, most notably because overly broad answers just don’t lead to interesting deck building or gameplay. Dissolve, Detention Sphere, Thoughtseize and Hero’s Downfall basically ignored the exact threats your opponents played; almost any of these cards could be used to answer any threat on the other side of the table for a good price. This stifled deck building and experimentation across the rest of the format, leading to one of the most hated Standard formats in recent memory.
This format taught some important lessons to card game designers. Answers need limits. A solution to this is creating “control’s dilemma”. There are answers for everything, but no one thing is an efficient answer to everything. This forces control decks to finely tune their lists to find the best selection of answers for a given meta game. This in turn encourages other players to switch to decks that avoid these answers. Thus we have the circle of life in the meta, creating ever swirling shifts in the decks allowing for new innovations and different approaches on each cycle.
We have the “control’s dilemma” but there is no “aggro’s dilemma”. Why? Aggro decks have a pile of threats that they are looking to throw at their opponent until they roll over and die. Is it possible for these threats to be poorly positioned against the opponent’s answers? Yes, of course. The difference is this doesn’t always matter. If you are playing Bandit Queen and you opponent is playing Lightning Storms in their deck, they could not see one before turn 5. Even if they do hit storm on turn 2 or 3, it is possible to beat this. You also at least have agency about how to play around the answers you expect your opponent to have, while they have little control over which answers they draw. Take for example the card Assembly Line. This is the sort of threat that is good against Deathstrike and bad against Lightning Storm. If you are playing in a Lightning Storm match up you can still get Assembly line to trade for some damage and a card most of the time, so it is never that bad. Your opponent on the other hand can’t turn their Deathstrike into anything other than an embarrassment against assembly line type threats.
So finally, I can now talk about the weaknesses in SirRhino’s list: it is well tuned against specific types of threats, but is poorly positioned against others. He has found a way to give him a strong Stonescar Aggro and Combrei Midrange match up, but that is basically all the deck does really well. The Rakano match up is very difficult, and any deck planning to win via Relic Weapons sounds like a nightmare. Although it may be possible to fix these match ups, it is probably impossible to fix them without compromising your Combrei or Bandit Queen match ups. If he has correctly identified the mix of threats he is going to play against, this deck is great. If the meta is more diverse than this, then he is going to be in a tough spot. This is likely going to be the consistent spot of any dedicated control deck in Eternal, as giving control too much versatility will probably harm the game as a whole. But if the meta game slows down enough for you to be able to target a couple of specific decks, control will rule the day (until the meta shifts again).
Okay, that’s everything! Very happy to get these thoughts onto paper, as they have been rolling around my head for weeks. Hopefully you found all this interesting and informative in some way. If you have any potential fringe deck you would like to share, drop me a line on Discord. Always looking for ideas on what to talk about!